From the May 2008 issue of Startups

How does someone transition from a career in the Air Force to a chicken wing franchise? For Michael W. Banks, it wasn't as big of a leap as it sounds--he gained a decade of restaurant management experience as an Officers' Club manager during his 20 years in the Air Force. After retiring in 1999, he started a successful federal contracting company two years later, then sold it in 2005. Banks didn't need to work anymore after that, but while spending time with his young grandson, he got to thinking about generational wealth and having something to pass on to his grandson. He read about Wing Zone and spoke to a franchisee, then spoke to the company's founders. Wing Zone encourages franchisees to open locations in urban neighborhoods that are poised for redevelopment--something Banks wanted to do.

He opened his first Wing Zone in Bowie, Maryland, in December 2007 and made his son the general manager. Banks plans to open 15 restaurants in 10 years and has been focusing on inner-city renewal--specifically, brand-new strip malls in revitalized urban neighborhoods--and intends to continue opening restaurants in similar markets in his area. From the beginning, Banks let his young staff in on his expansion plans so they could be part of his customer service-focused culture and be aware of career advancement opportunities as his restaurants open. "Part of the motivation for my staff is that maybe you're a cashier today but aspire [to something more]," says Banks, 47. Since it opened, his first location has earned sales of more than $60,000 a month. Banks' goal is to earn $20,000 in weekly sales by mid-2008, making it a $1 million per year restaurant.